Monthly Archives: July 2010

>General Classroom Consideration (Planning for the day)

>General Classroom Consideration (Planning for the day)
Looking to the day … every day :

*Be positive, proactive … & be good to yourself … Model the behaviour you want to see every day!
*Over plan!
*Have materials ready before students enter the room
*Understand goals. Be clear, specific and authentic. Every day I ask myself: “What am I trying to teach?”
*Plan ahead: a whole class lesson (&/or centers) & extended activities for early finishers
*Plan for smooth transitions – be goal oriented, be flexible
*Establish rules – & be sure to follow through
*Make noise – but take care not to disturb the other classes
*Plan for closure – How do I want the lesson / the day to end?
*Establish procedures for entering and leaving the classroom, for gathering/having materials at hand – Review & practice procedures until they become automatic
*Watch the time, don’t rush. Allow students enough time to get to their next class
*Understand students strengths and needs. Build on strengths and address needs
*Value the process as much as the product
*(… worth repeating:) Be positive, proactive … & be good to yourself … Take pride in accomplishments and learn from mistakes. Model the behaviour you want to see every day!

>Setting Goals With Children / With My Students

>Setting Goals with Children / Students

We all know that it is important to support our students; to build on strengths and address needs. It’s a given.

We believe in our children and in all that they can accomplish.

We work with them, support them, listen to them and guide them. We teach, we learn, we share, we grow. We want them to feel and be successful. We ask questions, we make plans, we learn from one another.

We know that it is important for students to exhibit a certain amount of self-awareness. We want them to know who they are: where they come from, where they are in the moment and where they are going.

It seems only reasonable then that after getting to know our students, we encourage them to reflect and set goals.
… & certainly, the beginning of any school year seems as good a time as any to do just that.

Setting Goals: My/One Teacher’s Approach:

At the beginning of the school year I inform my students that we are going to learn about and engage in goal setting (in a very formal way). I read inspirational stories (both fiction and nonfiction), pictures books, newspaper and magazine articles, etc. really anything that I can get my hands on that supports this/our theme.
We talk about goal setting but we do not share our goals. I want to ensure that they have enough time to really think about what it is that they would like to accomplish: adequate processing time is so very important.

We also come together to complete a KWHL chart about goal setting.
That is: What do we know about goals? What do we want to know about setting goals? How are we going to make this happen? (& finally … in the end: What did we learn?)

It’s an animated, authentic and exciting exercise … it encourages mindfulness, self-reflection, honesty and action.

P.S. I engage in the exercise as well. I set, develop, share and activate a personal goal. I share my strategies, successes and any bumps along the way. Together we engage in this authentic learning experience.

& Now: If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see the following “Goal Setting: How To List” posted in a highly visible area. We create this list once we have chosen our goals and before we activate them. We work on it for about one week (and add to it whenever the fancy strikes us!)

“Goal Setting How To List”
(by Grade 5)
*Choose and state the goal
*The goal must be it must be realistic, specific, simple & significant
*Do some research
*Reevaluate the goal.
*Be positive
*Be Precise
*Set Priorities
*Be strategic
*Research, read and listen
*Record goals / revisit them
*Post goals in a highly visible place
*See the goal/Visualize the goal often; What does it look like?
*Find a mentor (a parent, a teacher, an uncle, an aunt, a coach, a friend …. the possibilities are endless)
*Learn from mistakes – there will always be bumps along the way
*Enjoy the ride: Listen to your inner voice / enjoy the process !
*Be flexible / review your end goal and progress regularly
*Start today!

Some suggested times to introduce goal setting in the classroom (in no particular order):
The beginning of the school year
The beginning of any term
New Year’s Eve; The beginning of the calendar year
Rosh Hashanah
Seollal, the traditional Korean New Year
Losar, the Tibetan New Year
Samhain,  the Celtic New Year
Hindu New Year is Vikram Samvat
Baisakhi Festival, also called Vaisakhi
Jamshedi Navroz, the Parsi New Year
Samhain,  the Celtic New Year
Naw Ruz, the Bahai New Year
Songkran, the name of the New Year in Thailand
Chinese New Year, the Lunar New Year
Noruz or Now-Ruz, the Persian New Year   
Maal Hijra or Islamic New Year
Terry Fox Day
Martin Luther King Day
Remembrance Day
*Any day is a good day really!!!!!!

>Do One Good Deed a Day – A Children’s Challenge

>Challenge: Do One Good Deed Every Day for One Month
(If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see my students doing one good deed every day for one month … and then some!)

During the last month of school I issued  a challenge to my students and the challenge was this:
They were to do one good deed every day for the last month of school.
What a wonderful way to end the school year on a positive note!
At the end of the month we were to share our experiences:
Was this an easy challenge to have issued? Was it hard? How did we feel before, during and after the challenge? Will we try to extend the challenge?

Prior to the challenge we brainstormed a list of good deeds as a class.

It was a wonderful experience!


PS Next year I plan on issuing this same challenge during the First Term of school … and to revisit the idea often!

Our “To Do List”:
A List of Good Deeds:

(A) At home:
– give mum/dad a hug
– make mum and dad breakfast in bed
– make a card for mum, dad, grandmother, grandfather, etc. just to say “I love you!”
– call a relative (e.g. grandparent, aunt, uncle) just to say hello
– help with household chores
– read to a younger brother or sister
– donate gently used, unwanted toys, books and clothes to a local charity

(B) At School:
– help the teacher collect homework and hand out papers
– offer to sharpen pencils
– offer to take a message to the office
– if you see something messy in the room clean it up
– help a friend with his/her work
– hold the door for someone

(C) Out & About … & Everywhere!
– walk the neighbour’s dog
– rake the leaves (yours or the neighbour’s)
– take out the garbage (yours or the neighbour’s)
– hold the door for someone
– give someone a compliment
– make the world a cleaner place: pick up some trash
– give someone a compliment
– offer your seat on the bus to an older person or pregnant mother-to-be
– have a positive attitude and smile wherever you go!

Using Picture Books With Upper Elementary Students (e.g. Math, Science, etc.)

Using Picture Books With Upper Elementary Students (e.g. Math, Science, etc.)

OK ….  so if you were a fly on my Grade 5 classroom wall you would see picture books everywhere (e.g. on shelves, on display, in hands … and yes, even sometimes left on the floor 😉
I love reading/exploring/sharing picture books with my Grade 5 students. I use them in all(!) subject areas: Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, etc. They are quite simply a fantastic resource.

So when a colleague recently asked me for a list of pictures books that I use to teach math in the classroom I was thrilled!

Rewind: Same School – A Different Time:

I’ll never forgot the day:
I was teaching an upper elementary homeroom for the first time and I had gathered my students on the “imaginary” (I didn’t have one in the room) carpet to listen to a picture book read aloud.
I was reading “The Greedy Triangle” as a springboard into geometry.
Shortly after starting the book two teachers walked by and I swear I could “hear” them rolling their eyes! After all, what was I doing with those big kids at the “carpet”? & reading a “baby book” no less!
Well, that belief system didn’t last long, and needless to say one year later not only did I have a real(!) carpet in my classroom but most upper elementary teachers were using pictures book regularly as an additional means of teaching math, science, etc. concepts. Yippee!

& Now down to the nuts & bolts of it:

I love using math picture books during math (for example) because they …
… both educate & entertain
… provide a great transition from one subject area into another
… provide a springboard / narrow a purpose
… set the stage: provide a background & develop a theme
… build vocabulary
… make otherwise “dry” facts & figures come alive/fun
… make otherwise abstract concepts concrete
… introduce & develop reading strategies
model fluency & expression
develop reading comprehension, predicting and inferential skills
develop listening and speaking skills
excellent, non-threatening, encouraging forum for discussion & exploration

Picture books are ….
… friendly
… bite-sized
… non-threatening
… great for all (especially visual & auditory) learners
… fun, playful, entertaining

Finally, there is something comforting about gathering everyone at the carpet to listen to a picture book … it’s community building.


PS If you are looking for picture books to use in your class for math for example, please see the bottom of my blog entitled: “How to Structure a Weekly Math Program (A Most General Approach … + Picture Books)”at

>How to Structure a Tutoring Session: A Most General Approach

>How to Structure a Tutoring Session: A Most General Approach

Ally, I tutor “Sam” twice a week. The sessions are one and a half hours. I love working with this charming Grade 5 student but we are both(!) finding that the sessions tend to drag a little, especially toward the end. I know that he needs the time/support and yet I feel at a bit of a loss. I am wondering whether you tutor, and if so how do you go about structuring your sessions? (I just read your post on structuring weekly Math lessons and thought you might have some ideas).

(Just to give you some insight, his learning profile (generally speaking) is as follows: His overall cognitive abilities are in low-average range. He experiences difficulties in the following areas: processing language, language expression & reading; auditory-verbal processing; visual perceptual skills. ADHD.)

I also tutor a fair bit during the summer months. I love this one-on-one time with students, but at the same time I feel for you. Sessions can certainly “drag” if not structured properly no matter how entertaining one tries to be … and of course not every child “welcomes” a tutor initially (especially when his/her friends are out playing in the sun).

What I have posted below is an outline of a “typical” math/language session as broken down into time segments. I hope that you find it helpful.

Oh! But before you begin tutoring any child consider the following:

First, it is really helpful to take all the time necessary to get to know your student. Simply, take the time to talk. Ask open ended questions. You might even want to give him an interest survey. There are great, printable “back to school surveys”  for example, (e.g. those getting-to-know-your-students-in-September-surveys) to be found everywhere on the web. Following this, base language and math lessons on areas of personal interests (e.g. basketball, music, reptiles, art, cars, etc.). Use what he already loves to “hook” him. He has to buy into the sessions after all. Now, initially, as you chat away, it may seem as though you “are not doing your job” … but I assure you: The more you know who you are working with, the better able you will be to build on his strengths and his address needs.

Secondly, just as you would during any school day make sure to break up your time, e.g. mix up longer and shorter written activities. “Interrupt” written activities with games and puzzles. Include games/puzzles that you can work on together and those that he can engage in independently. (The independent “fun time” will give you an opportunity to assess the activity that the student has just completed.) Also, be sure to give him an opportunity to move around every once in a while. You might want to do some stretching “exercises” together when needed. I am sure that you’ll know when: you will sense it.

Lastly, just like in the classroom: always over plan!

Sample: A Math Language Tutoring Session
Teacher (T): Introduce the session. Ensure that the student knows what to expect. Provide a clear overview of activities. He should understand how the session will be structured; what it looks like.
Student (S): Quick “fun” warm-up: puzzle/brainteaser/word search/game (related to subject area).


T: Introduce the paragraph writing lesson (e.g. Write a paragraph entitled, “My Favourite Outfit)”.
S: Pre-writing activity: Work on graphic organizer.
T: Assess the completed warm-up activity.


S: Read a short story aloud in keeping with the writing theme. This will help the student generate additional ideas and build vocabulary. Focus on your student’s fluency, decoding and comprehension skills.
Next: Student completes comprehension questions based on reading. He does this independently.
T: You review/edit the graphic organizer.


S & T: Writing conference: Review the graphic organizer together. Brainstorm. Focus on ideas, organization, vocabulary, voice, etc.
S: Writes first draft.
T: Prepare math lesson (e.g. set up math manipulatives, games, papers, etc.)


S: Put writing aside. Complete a Math Minute.
T: Continue to prepare math lesson.


T: Introduce math concept (e.g. place value). Read a picture book on the math theme being (see for suggested read alouds: ) .
S & T : Play concept-related game with student e.g. Place value game with dice (More math games can be found at:

S: Complete place value pencil and paper activity (math consumable).
T: Edit the first draft of the student’s paragraph.


S & T: Writing conference.


S: Write: Paragraph 2nd draft.
T: Correct math.


S & T: Go over math. Ensure for understanding, make corrections.
S: Complete extended Math activity.
T: Edit 2nd draft.


S & T : Engage in a bite-sized puzzle/game: Math or Language related


T: Continue to edit 2nd draft.
S: Work on bite-sized independent grammar/spelling/open activity giving up time to review the above)


S & T : Writing conference. Ask the student to choose a method/means to publish his work. Encourage creativity. (Publishing can be done at a later date.)

S & T : Debrief: Talk about the session.

Done! 🙂
Now go out and enjoy the sun!

>How to Structure a Weekly Math Program (A Most General Approach … + Picture Books)


One Way to Structure a Weekly Math Program (A Most General Approach … + Picture Books)

Q: Hi Ally,
I am having difficulty structuring my Math program so that everything gets done. For example, I sometimes feel that problem solving skills aren’t addressed and developed as much or as often as I would like them to be.

Well, if you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see that I have structured my program in the following way. I hope that you find this breakdown useful!
PS You know, in the early days of my career I often found myself trying to do too much in too fast! 

Really, as a teachers the onus is on us to listen to our students and find that “perfect” balance between a student directed program (e.g. based on their strengthens and needs) and covering the assigned curriculum. As a result, I often seem to find myself repeating (as if out loud): “What are my students trying to tell me?, “Slow and steady wins the race.” & “Slow down in order to speed up.”.

Weekly Math Schedule:


Math Minute; Whole Class Mini Lesson (concept); Centres.
Math Minute; Whole Class Mini Lesson (concept); Centres.
Problem Solving. Review the “steps” (e.g. Students engage in problem solving activities.
Math Minute; Whole Class Mini Lesson (concept); Centres.
Pop Quiz (in “Pop Quiz” notebooks). 
Pop Quiz: I post 7 questions on the SmartBoard: 3 questions addressing current classroom concept (e.g. measurement: calculating area and volume), 3 review questions from completed units of study (e.g. place value, long division & fractions) and 1 challenging problem solving question as relates to our current unit of study.

I have found that in following the above pattern I am better able to stay on track and accomplish my classroom goals.

Actually, the Pop Quiz notebooks have proven to be extremely valuable! They are yet another means of authentic assessment in that they are cumulative. I am able to gather, review and accumulate a “snap shot” of current skill sets as we move through the program on a weekly basis. (I thought of creating this math notebook one day as I was marking their weekly spelling tests). Note: parents are also required to sign “Pop Quizzes” weekly, and in this way are also able to track their child’s progress. Bonus: Regular updates and our Pop Quizzes mean that there are no surprises on report cards!

As often as possible (e.g. once a day) I read math themed picture books to my students. It is extremely important for them to develop the language of math in every way possible. Some great titles include the following:
(PS I teach Grade 5 & my students love  coming to the carpet to hear stories read out loud!):

Some titles to get you started:

Math Curse (Jon Sciezka)
The Greedy Triangle (Marilyn Burns)
The M&Ms Brand Pattern Book (McGrath)
More M&M’s Brand Chocolate Candies Math (Barbara McGrath)
Who Sank the Boat
Do You Wanna Be? You Chance to Find Out about Probability (Jean Cushman)
Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi: A Math Adventure
The Rabbit Problem (Emily Gravet)
Uno’s Garden (Graeme Base)
Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! (Marilyn Burn)
365 Penguins (Jean-Luc Fromenta)
How to Train with a T.Rex (Michael Phelps book)
Divide and Ride (Stuart Murphy)
Grapes of Math: Mind Stretching Math Riddles (Greg Tang)
Math Appeal: Mind Stretching Math Riddles (Greg Tang)
Fraction Fun (David Adler)
Full House: an Invitation to Fractions (Dayle A. Dodds)
A Remainder of One (Elinor J. Pinczes )
Esio Trot (Roald Dahl)
The Garbage Barge (Jonah Winter)
Lion’s Share Problem
Two Ways to Count to Ten (Dee)

Twizzler’s Shapes and Patterns (Pallotta)

***Now Check out these fantastic sites that I turn to when looking for picture books to pair with my Grade 5 math lessons!

3) “Math Concepts + Picture Books = Reading Fun” =
4) “Picture Books for Math”

Binders, Duotangs, Notebooks & Homework: A Teacher’s Sept. Time Saver!

Binders, Duotangs, Notebooks & Homework: A Teacher’s Sept. Time Saver!

Ok … so really it’s July & I can’t believe that I am thinking about September already … ugh … I must really “love” my job …  😉 (… or at the very least be super devoted).

Anyway, September is a busy, busy time of year … & no matter how many years one has been teaching for, or how prepared one is there always seems to be more to do …. but that’s just teaching for you!

In an effort to “stay connected”, what follows is a checklist that I refer to about one week before school starts. I keep it close by (right on hand) in order to make my “house keeping” run more smoothly.

& So … if you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see the following checklist (posted “proudly”) in an effort to keep myself in check.

Best Regards,

Binders, Duotangs & Notebooks

Binders& Subjects:

  • Binder#1: French Binder
  • Binder#2: Test Binder
  • Binder#3: Literature

Duotangs & Subjects (w/pockets – each student must have the same colour):

  • Orange:     Math
  • Purple:      Library
  • Yellow:     Literature
  • Red:          Unfinished work (1 pocket) & Fun Book (1pocket)
  • Green:       Science
  • Blue:         Social Studies
  • Black:       Homework Folder
  • White:       Reading Response

Notebooks (each student must have the same colour):

  • Home Journal       (pink)
  • Learning Log        (blue)
  • Math (grid)           (green)
  • Math Dictionary   (green)
  • Math Pop Quiz (grid)(yellow)


  • Art
  • Student Portfolios


  • PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK: (due dates)
  • MUSIC:                     EVERY NIGHT
  • TEACH & TELL:     1 PER TERM

Related Tips — before the first day:
1. Give every student a number. In this way, when novel “#4” has gone missing, or has been found in the hall you will know who to go to.
2. Make a ton of labels with students’ names. These can be stuck onto duotangs, bins, binders, pencil boxes, etc.
3. Buy one cutlery tray for every desk. Put bulky pencil boxes to one side and use these fantastic organizers instead!
4. Pool all resources (e.g. notebooks, glue sticks, binders, pencils, etc.) Everyone has been required to bring the exact same supplies to school on the first day. Divide them up as necessary. (This is so much easier than sending everyone to their bins to get “a glue stick” all at once!)
5. Colour code/coordinate all books (e.g. all Home Journals are pink, all Science duotangs are green). This is a great organizational strategy.
6. Always be prepared for a new student(s). Make “one extra” of everything. This will save you time (and anxiety(!)) when you discover at 9:10AM on a Thursday morning that  “Shelly” will be joining your class!